Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Trains Are Evil Behaviour-Modification Devices!

So says conservative columnist (and, apparently, conspiracy theorist) George Will at Newsweek. I urge you to read the column- it is grade-A insane. Really, saying that is an insult to the community of people with mental disabilities. Of course, it's just the typical "cars mean freedom!" argument taken one step further, and seen through a virulently anti-Obama lens.

The real story here is that the article has gotten such wide press. Even New York Times economist Paul Krugman devoted a few columns to it on his inestimable blog. The second of those columns sums up many of my feelings on the subject: neither air travel nor driving seems particularly liberating, especially in urban settings, and properly-run trains afford their riders more freedom of time than either of the above modes.

I would, however, like to add that the level of freedom afforded by transportation modes isn't necessarily contingent just upon the characteristics of that mode. True freedom comes from having a choice in the mode of travel you use. Even if cars were the ultimate expression of the rugged individualist American ethos, even if they afforded their occupants all the freedom that Will imagines, how free are car owners if they live somewhere where car ownership is the only option? How free are those of us, stuck in the suburbs by circumstance, who would rather not own, operate and maintain a multi-ton piece of heavy machinery? How free are those of us who would rather put our money towards travel than car insurance? Furthermore, how free are those of us who, through poverty or disability, are unable to own or operate such a piece of equipment?

My answer to all of the above? Not very.

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